Vancouver survey call

CRITICALLY endangered possums, carnivorous plants known only to occur three places on Earth, and foraging habitat of endangered cockatoos should trigger flora and fauna surveys lest a tourist resort planned for Albany’s Goode Beach breach State and Federal environment laws, an eminent biology professor says.

University of Western Australia Professor of Biodiversity Stephen Hopper said that, contrary to a report produced for the owner of the Lot 660 development site beside
Lake Vancouver, banksia bushes, with seeds often eaten by endangered Carnaby’s cockatoos, were present on the block.

“I have made regular observations of black cockatoos feeding on Banksia sessilis, the parrot bush, on Lot 660 and nearby,” Professor Hopper said on Monday.

“Consultants have said there is no banksia on the site.

“That may be because they were relying on the 1992 flora survey of Lot 660 and its predecessor at which time this plant was called Dryandra sessilis.”

Australia’s Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act states that if foraging habitat of an endangered species is to be destroyed by a project, the plans
must be referred for consideration by Federal authorities.

A structure plan for the resort recommended for endorsement by Albany’s City councillors this coming Tuesday, ahead of consideration by the WA Planning Commission, does not recommend referral to the Commonwealth.

“The second thing is that the cockatoos themselves have been observed perching on the site, and this relates to the statement attached to the proponent’s report for the project that there is no substantial food foraging habitat on the site to be cleared for the buildings,” Professor Hopper added.

“I noticed that on the coastal reserve, just in front of where the major building is going to be, walking through very low peppermints last Saturday, that something had been stripping the bark off these arm-thickness branches of peppies and exposing the burrows of woodboring beetle larvae, witchetty grub sort of animals, finger diameter and rich in protein.

“I inferred that the only animal capable of ripping the bark off and chewing through the wood to get at these burrows made by the woodboring beetle larvae would be black cockatoos.

“And yesterday, my wife and I in returning from our daily walk to the beach saw just near our house 25 black cockatoos from 10m away and we stood there for five or 10
minutes. They were ripping the bark off and going for beetle grubs in what turned out to be these significant burrows through the wood on peppermint trees.”
Professor and Chris Hopper live 100m south of Lot 660.

“What we can draw from all this is that we know for sure that a listed threatened species of black cockatoo is in Goode Beach and on Lot 660,” Professor Hopper said.

“It strikes me that the planners have recommended to councillors there’s no listed species, and hence, there’s no need for any further fauna surveys on Lot 660.

“A survey for that foraging habitat is absolutely essential to come up with a sensible evaluation as to whether clearing of the lot for the development would have a significant impact on this population of Carnaby’s cockatoo.”

Environmental consultants for Lot 660 owner, Perth paediatrician Cherry Martin, saw a critically endangered Western ringtail possum on the block along the route of the proposed access road.

“And that to me triggers a need for a comprehensive survey for ringtail possums,” Professor Hopper said.

Importantly, he said that in 2013 a local consultant botanist collected a rare pygmy sundew at Lot 660.

“They’re quite tiny plants, carnivorous, that feed on insects and the like with stickiness on their leaves,” he said.

“It’s a species that was collected by Robert Brown on Matthew Flinders’ 1801-02 expedition.”

Brown collected the little plant either at Lake Vancouver where it is only known to occur in a 20sqm patch on and beside the access road, or in Little Grove where its only other two known locations are.

“They’d bulldoze it out of existence at Lake Vancouver,” Professor Hopper said of the current resort plans.

“At the moment, the precautionary principle would say: ‘Don’t mess with this precariously rare plant, as we presently know it’.”

He said he would soon recommend to councillors and others that urgent and comprehensive fauna and flora surveys be done for Lot 660 ahead of possible listing of the sundew as a threatened species, and referral of the block to the State and

Commonwealth for consideration of impacts on the possum and black cockatoo.

In a recent submission on the project, the WA Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions said it could not comment on the resort’s impact on vegetation because a current flora survey was not conducted.

“The new evidence that’s just been obtained with relatively little effort by admittedly quite experienced people just raises alarm bells that this site is even more significant than previously appreciated,” Professor Hopper told The Weekender.

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School holidays slows Midds EOI

LANDCORP’S deadline for developers to express interest in erecting a hotel-cum-apartment block at Middleton Beach has been extended for three weeks.

General Manager Regional for the State Government property development arm, Stuart Nahajski, confirmed as much when contacted this week.

“The Middleton Beach hotel developer expression of interest period has been extended from July 17, to August 7, 2018,” he told The Weekender.

“EOI extensions are reasonably common and in this instance advice from the selling agents was that more time would help ensure fair representation of the opportunity to all developers, especially given local school holidays.

“The EOI process is subject to strict probity requirements and as such any submission is commercial in confidence until the final outcome is determined.”

And with that, Mr Nahajski declined to reveal how many expressions had been received or which, if any, developers had submitted them.

The Landcorp website is yet to be updated to reflect the extended deadline.

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Sport blueprint gets tick

RESIDENTS in the western part of Denmark shire finally had their say on the masterplan for the development of sport and recreation in the shire, which was unanimously approved at a council meeting on Tuesday night.

The Sport and Recreation Masterplan was presented at Council’s June 19 meeting, but was voted down with a deferral motion passed instead, allowing time for residents and ratepayers in the western area of the shire to be included in the final submission.

In their belated consultation summary, representatives from the Nornalup community and Peaceful Bay Progress Association stressed the importance of the Frankland River, detailing the opportunities of the natural resources for consideration for future recreation plans.

Topping their list was the development of a Nornalup Trails Concept Plan to identify existing trails and develop new trails with linkages to the Nornalup townsite and to the Munda Biddi and Bibbulmun tracks.

“Currently, trails are in existence but better identification is required as well as better signage for existing infrastructure,” the submission says.
Peaceful Bay Progress Association also requested the prioritising of a recreation concept plan specific to their patch.

“The need to provide a safe and accessible means to the beach is the important issue for the community,” it says.

The PBPA propose to explore the area immediately east and west of the beach walkway at Peaceful Bay.

“It would include a picnic area overlooking the beach, fish cleaning facilities, graduated access to the swimming beach for people with disabilities, a pontoon swimming area and outdoor gym equipment and playground,” the submission details.

The masterplan includes a proposal for the development of an additional oval at McLean Park, the redevelopment of the Denmark Surf Lifesaving Club and developing a youth hub located in the Denmark townsite.

The masterplan will be up for public comment for the next 28 days.

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Showtime for orchids

A STRANGE winter with unusual conditions has slowed down regular flowering patterns of orchids this season, but that hasn’t slowed the Albany Orchid Society’s efforts in putting together a blooming good display.

The group’s annual winter show opens today at North Road Shopping Centre and will be available for public viewing every day until 12.30pm on Saturday.

The green thumb experts will be on location throughout the four-day extravaganza to hand out gardening tips and sell some of their orchids.

Ahead of the display, society members Gail Brodziak, Carol and Neville White, and Barbara Hawes gave The Weekender a sneak peek at some of their best plants.

Among the collection of colour were phalaenopsis orchids, red, white and yellow cymbidiums, dark pink dendrobiums and a native Australian dockrillia.

The orchidists agreed the colder and darker winter this year had slowed down the flowering of their orchids, particularly the hot weather phalaenopsis orchids that require a lot of sun.

To care for their orchids a little better, the group had all chosen to relocate their plants to their respective kitchen benches near a window.

When asked whether it was difficult to care for and manoeuvre such delicate looking flowers, Mrs White said only transport was difficult.

“Most people think orchids are delicate, but they are tough as nails,” she said.

“They don’t need much water, you might water them twice a week.

“I’ve got a little moisturemeter that my husband got for me and I use that to check how much moisture there is in the pot.”

Her husband, Neville laughed and agreed, but said they were still a nightmare to get from point A to B and that you have to be very careful not to knock anything while transporting them, if you want to qualify for judging.

“There are lots of criteria for the show,” Mr White said.

“The leaves have to be pristine, 60 per cent of the flowers have to be open and there has to be a certain number of flowers.”

Mrs Brodziak said prizes would be raffled during the show, and a judge from Bunbury was travelling especially for the event.

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Race all downhill for mountain bike club

A DOWNHILL bike race that will launch from Monkey Rock was given the go ahead by Denmark Shire Council on Tuesday night.

The downhill speed event was proposed by the Denmark Mountain Bike Club and unanimously supported by council.

Club president Nathan Devenport said the Monkey Rock Speed Run had been on the cards since last year in the hope that it would be approved.

“It’s only going to be a small scale event to start with. If I got 50 riders I’d be stoked,” he said.

“We’re such a new club so the process of getting the event ready to propose to the Shire has been a learning process for us.

“We’ll have the chance to ride in the amazing Denmark environment.

“We’re pretty privileged to be able to do that.”

Mr Devenport said the club would need to put certain practices in place to stop the distribution of phytophthora dieback and to further protect flora and fauna in the reserve.

“We’ve been taking the Shire’s advice with planning the event,” he said.

“We’ve had meetings and site walks with the sustainability officer, Donna Sampey, to make sure we put proper protocols in place to protect the environment.”

Denmark Police have also put their support behind the race and will put their speed gun to good use to clock contestants during the race.

Shire Councillor Mark Allen said endorsing the club’s proposal was a no-brainer.

“The Shire had a can-do policy on this, which I think is just fantastic,” he said.

With one in five Western Australians owning a mountain bike, Councillor Kingsley Gibson also supported the speed run.

“Obviously mountain biking is a rapidly growing sport, offering the community health benefits,” he said.

Following the council’s decision, Mr Davenport said the club would begin advertising for the competition which will be held on August 5.

“All our club members have been aware the race would be coming up,” he said.

“But I think we’ll get riders from Albany and even a few from Perth.”

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Wall of sound raised for waterfront apartment plan

THE spectre of a sound-attenuating wall along Princess Royal Drive has been raised in the face of a 26-page objection from Southern Ports to apartments planned for harbour-front land owned by Albany business identity Paul Lionetti.

As previously revealed, farming and transport groups have vehemently opposed conversion into apartments of hotel rooms proposed for a plot owned by Mr Lionetti across Toll Place from his Due South tavern (‘Port users slam apartments plan’, July 5).

Now, The Weekender has seen a 26-page objection from recently resigned Southern Ports CEO Nicolas Fertin.

The objection says “incremental” modifications to a plan for the hotel in response to “concerns over commercial viability” may see a mixed-use building emerge “with insufficient protection for the port’s freight transport corridors”.

“Permanent residential land users will be subject to freight road and freight rail noise associated with the road and rail corridor servicing the port, the future ring road, the rail marshalling yards and noise generated by the operation of the port,” Mr Fertin argues.

“Detailed consideration has not been given to the use of building materials, appropriate distribution of land uses across the site and the orientation of balconies
to mitigate and reduce the impact of noise on residents/guests within the development.

“History shows that uncertainty of port access is a factor that drives investment decisions away from a port and its region.”

Despite the pointed objection, Henry Dykstra of Harley Dykstra Planning told a City of Albany committee last week that Southern Ports “seems to be opening up to the idea of residential” provided the port is “protected” from complaints by future residents.

Mr Dykstra was acting for landholder Foreshore Investments Albany Pty Ltd, and his assertion was echoed by chief City planner Paul Camins.

“They seem they might be supporting permanent residential if the noise is at that level,” Mr Camins said of moves to limit noise inside any future apartments to 55 decibels.

This week, a Southern Ports spokesperson said the organisation met with Harley Dykstra to brief the planning firm on its objection before it was lodged with the City.

At last week’s committee meeting, Mr Dykstra and Mayor Dennis Wellington opposed a recommendation from Mr Camins that a noise attenuation package be
developed prior to the project’s detailed design phase.

“Under no circumstances do we want a wall around this development to attenuate noise,” Mr Wellington said.

Councillor Robert Sutton agreed with Mr Dykstra and the mayor.

“If the proponent came in with a noise wall, it would be knocked back,” he predicted.

But Deputy Mayor Greg Stocks had his doubts, saying early signoff to an anti-noise package was essential.

“I think it’s very important that we send a message early,” he said before saying Harley Dykstra should “guarantee” a “sound wall” would not be entertained.

Buffering options preferred by Mr Camins include triple glazing and noise-reducing building and unit design.

Mr Fertin’s objection argued the 6800sqm of apartments being sought equated to 40 per cent of the project’s floor area and would erode the “primary tourism and
entertainment intent of the waterfront precinct”.

Mr Camins’ recommendation was endorsed nine votes to one, with Mr Wellington the sole opponent.

Cr Paul Terry abstained from voting because one of his sons works for a company associated with the project.

The endorsed recommendation is slated for final debate at a Council meeting on Tuesday.

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Bridge ‘own goal’ averted

IN THE same week the FIFA World Cup was emphatically decided, opponents of a second traffic bridge over the Denmark River scored a resounding 7-1 victory as Shire councillors booted the political football deep back into State Government territory.

On Tuesday night, Shire President Ceinwen Gearon was a late omission from Denmark’s monthly Council meeting, citing urgent personal reasons. Substitute chair Peter Caron was, on several occasions, moved to quash applause from the
capacity crowd.

Ahead of the chamber-room match-up, between councillors opposing the bridge and those in support, Shire CEO Bill Parker recommended the State be told Denmark was “unable” to deliver the project for lack of funds. Mr Parker had recommended the State assume control and build the bridge using $4,291,000 Royalties for Regions money earmarked for the project.

He advised the Shire would otherwise be required to identify a $3.1 million funding partner and contribute a further $1.51 million to the project that includes the $4.83
million bridge, land acquisition, road, fences and consultants.

“This represents three years’ of Roads to Recovery funding,” he continued.

“The $1,510,000 earmarked for this project is desperately needed to address the Shire’s [roads] renewal backlog.”

But in a dig to keep the cash for Denmark, Councillor Kingsley Gibson moved and Cr Jan Lewis seconded that the Shire negotiate with the State to repurpose the funding, preferably for upgrades to infrastructure at Greens Pool.

“We don’t need it, we can’t afford it,” Cr Gibson said of the bridge.

In a pre-siren twist, Cr Ian Osborne launched an amendment motion – that the State deliver the bridge in accordance with Denmark’s shire plan – which includes a crossing at the contentious East River site.

He said an East River bridge was in the plan for good reasons, including its proximity to town and there having been a bridge there previously.

In a major assist that helped Cr Gibson push his motion over the line, Cr Lewis chimed in from the chambers’ left wing.

“There was not a lot of science behind that particular part of the Local Planning Strategy,” she countered.

Cr Rob Whooley, the Shire’s former chief engineer, said the crossing had not been in the plan “forever anyway”.

“We may be many years and years, if not decades, away from needing another bridge and I think we should leave [Cr Gibson’s] resolution as it is,” he vollied.

But Crs Osborne and Roger Seeney were not going down without a fight.

“The reality is the Government is not going to switch funding to Greens Pool,” Cr Osborne said.

“I will go to my grave to fight [an alternative] southern [bridge] option.”

Cr Seeney said the bridge was required as a second evacuation route, as Denmark had been assessed as having the highest fire risk in Western Australia.

In true underdog style, Cr Allen closed with a partial quote from The Castle and the lawyer of lead character Darryl Kerrigan.

“The vibe of this traffic study is we do need a bridge but we don’t need it now,” he reasoned.

Cr Gibson’s motion was passed seven councillors to one, with only Cr Seeney voting against.

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Generation next

ONE third of surveyed secondary school students say they have no knowledge of available careers in agriculture, while only 18 per cent say they know a ‘ fair bit’ or ‘a lot’.

A recent survey of 500 secondary school students across Western Australia undertaken on behalf of Manjimup Shire shows that 56 per cent of respondents who thought a farming career was out of the question do so because they are not from a farming background.

Manjimup Shire President Paul Omodei says the research is unique in that it asks young people what they think of agriculture and what the industry needs to change to attract young people to explore careers and enter the workforce.

“A career in agriculture has a lot to offer, graduates are in high demand, salaries are increasing and technology is taking off but many secondary school students don’t even know the industry exists,” Cr Omodei says.

“What this report tells us is how young people find information about careers and what materials will make them take a closer look at agriculture.”

The report notes that in many students’ minds a career in agriculture is not just a career but a lifestyle change, with 28 per cent of respondents concerned they would have to move from friends and family.

On the upside, 20 per cent of students who said they would consider an agriculture career did so because they liked animals.

Improving people’s lives, and an interesting work environment were the next most common reasons, at 18 per cent a piece.

One young man who has no doubt he wants to be a farmer is Patrick Swallow who is working at the robotic dairy and with beef cattle at WA College of Agriculture Denmark while on holidays from his Bachelor of Agribusiness course at Curtin University in Perth.

Mr Swallow, pictured, a budding fourth-generation Denmark farmer, is a former student of the college who started studying there in Year 10.

“I suppose when I was younger, I looked at the police force or being a mechanic, but I always knew I was going to take over the farm one day,” he says.

“I always wanted to do it, but Mum and Dad never forced the farm on me.”

Mr Swallow said he would encourage any high school student to check out the Ag college system.

“It’s changed my life,” he said.

“Earlier in high school I probably wasn’t quite as academic or driven to do well but when I came here I was actually genuinely interested in it.”

Aside from one day taking the reins at the nearby family farm, Mr Swallow also aspires to become a teacher at the college.

Photo: Chris Thomson

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Joint venture food for thought

BUYING the farm next door may not be the most profitable way to expand an agri-business in the Great Southern, especially in an era of climate change, a prominent Western Australian economist advises.

University of Western Australia agriculture economist Ross Kingwell, pictured, says many farms these days expand by first leasing new land nearby under a condition that they get “first dibs” on buying the property when the owner gets around to selling it.

“The advantage of that is you get to learn first-hand exactly what the quality of the land asset is that you’re likely to be buying so that you get very good intelligence about how valuable, how useful the land is,” Professor Kingwell says.

“The downside of buying out a neighbour is that you expose yourself to exactly the same climate variability that you face on your home farm.

“So that if on your home farm you get a dry year, you’re going to also probably get that on the neighbouring farm.”

Professor Kingwell says soils and enterprises that work best on neighbouring farms are also likely to do so on the home farm.

“So, you’re not spreading your risk; you’re just facing exactly the same risks on the neighbouring farm as you face on the home farm,” he says.

“The only advantage you really get is spreading your overhead costs across more hectares.”

Professor Kingwell says few farmers team up with farmers outside their area, but more should.

With colleagues, Professor Kingwell recently published a paper titled: Traditional farm expansion versus joint venture remote partnerships that modelled farm performance across 27 locations in south-western Australia, including the Great Southern locales of Katanning and Ongerup.

“The other way to go is the approach that the paper looked at, which is: ‘Well, what happens if you go into a joint venture with a farmer somewhere else who also wants to expand and can you share expansion opportunities by becoming joint owners in respective bits of land?’” he says.

“It works well if you’ve got two competent farmers who both want to expand but want to spread their risk.

“Both the farmers have to ask themselves a few questions such as: ‘Does this partnership offer economies of size for both our operations?’, ‘Does the expansion offer us potential to get some price discounts on our inputs?’, and probably most impor- tantly, ‘Are the returns from both farms a bit weakly correlated?’

“This would likely be the case if you had a farmer in a sheep dominant area like Gnowangerup go into business with a crop dominant farmer somewhere else.”

Professor Kingwell says in some Great Southern areas including Gnowangerup, Borden and Kojonup, climate change is actually proving beneficial – with less water-logging and better rainfall distribution.

“In the Great Southern, places like Ongerup and Katanning, it’s still possible to find a partner that reduces your risk and adds value to you business,” he says.

“So, even in the Albany area, which most people would consider a pretty good one for farming, it’s still possible to find a distant joint venture partner that actually adds value to your own business compared to investment in a farm next door.”

Professor Kingwell says out-of-area JVs are still “very uncommon” because they are so novel and it is difficult to identify a good partner.

“Most farmers do what their dads did, which is you just buy out a neighbour,” he says.

“Whereas, in the midst of climate change that advice may be less sound.”

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Great Southern brand

REGIONAL brand to promote Great Southern beef, sheep meat and grain is well on the way to becoming reality.

The regional branding project run by the Stirlings to Coast Farmers group, alongside a company called AgLive, is enlisting digital technology to track the history of individual livestock as they move from gate to plate.

SCF CEO Christine Kershaw says the trial, involving 20 farmers, is building up a digital chain of custody to inform customers exactly where animals come from and the full history of their lives.

“This in turn has potential to bring farmers and consumers closer together through a locally branded product where meat quality and animal welfare go hand in hand,” Dr Kershaw says.

“Consumers want to connect with farmers and where their food comes from.

“What better time for us to do exactly that with full traceability becoming easier with this new technology?”

She warns that developing a Great Southern brand is not as easy as it seems.

“It’s really easy to put a logo on the side of a box and call it a brand,” she says.

“But not everything, especially in export markets, needs a regional brand – ‘West Australian’ is often enough.”

Dr Kershaw says the beef and sheep brand is being developed under the aegis of a co-operative being set up for SCF’s member farmers.

“The co-op will be for grain, beef and sheep, co-ordinating aggregated supply contracts through the region,” she explains.

“We’re looking at small, containerised, specialist grain blends that we can sell for high value.

“We’re developing a brand with the co-op itself as a reliable supplier of fully traceable product.”

Separate to the emerging co-op brand, Dr Kershaw says SCF is looking to develop a regional food brand to use the Great Southern to market specific grain, sheep and beef items.

Interestingly, the humble noodle is at the vanguard of that plan.

“Our farmers grow a top quality product for export, and Japanese millers add value by making it into a noodle,” Dr Kershaw explains.

“We have a project, which is in the third year of trials developing an agronomic package to say: ‘Yes, we can develop this good quality noodle wheat’.

“But we have an opportunity to put a regional brand around that, selling it through the co-operative to the specific high-value Japanese market.”

She says a delegation from Japan is likely to visit Albany later this year and a regional noodle brand is likely to be announced around that time.

The Great Southern is WA’s second largest agricultural region by gross value of production, with $1 billion of mainly grains and livestock coming from the region each year.

“This area here around Albany, with the high rainfall, has not been properly recognised as the food hub that it is,” Dr Kershaw says.

“The extended seasons and reliable rainfall means you can have a mixture of farming enterprises that you can’t have in the Wheatbelt.

“There is an opportunity to brand this region as a source of clean, green produce.”

Photo: Anthony Probert

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